Because I am historically a homeschool mom, our classroom usually had tons of technology in it, because it had whatever tech we were using at home. It definitely had its advantages. But it also came with some drawbacks. We learned very quickly how to take advantage of tech in the classroom. We also learned very quickly what things we would need to curb in order to keep our days productive.
That being said, regardless of what kind of classroom you are teaching in, there is some amazing tech that you could be using in your classroom to help bring even the most boring lessons to life.
But wait! Isn't this a literature website? Don't lovers of literature only read physical books and don't play video games? Honestly, I do have to admit that I prefer to read actual books over my Kindle. In fact, I haven't even touched my Kindle in months. But I also love technology when I'm not hating trying to make it work and it's not sabotaging whatever project I am desperately trying to finish.
In this first of two articles, I would like to go over eight of the best ways to take advantage of tech that we introduced into our classroom and how you can do the same for free or for a great price.
Table of Contents
Of course, Virtual Reality has to be at the top of the list. I may be dating myself a little bit here, but I remember sitting in school talking with our class about virtual reality. We were laughing at how it was such science fiction and ridiculous to think about as reality. I wonder how many in that room that day were thinking to themselves that they would definitely live to see the day. I was not one of them. And I can't tell you how glad I am that I was wrong.
VR is one of the newest additions to our classroom. It was actually purchased by my oldest (adult) son. It was his Christmas gift to our family. By the way, this son was a computer engineering major in college at the time he bought this for his siblings. He was pretty much born for tech. I used to get so mad at him back in his earlier school days. I couldn't get him to focus on his work. There was always some electronic device distracting him, or so I thought. As it turned out, he WAS paying attention all those years while I was yelling at him to put the other stuff down and get his schoolwork done. Apparently, he is better at multi-tasking than I am.
Best one to buy?
So while I would not necessarily recommend buying an Oculus Quest VR headset, (it is the one we have and we love it, but it would definitely be cost prohibitive in the classroom), there are some really good options on Amazon for some affordable alternatives. You could get a few and then cycle them out until everyone got a chance.
Google has a VR that is all about function and none of the frills. It is called, most appropriately, The Official Cardboard. Yep, you guessed it, it's made from cardboard. It does not have the lowest price tag of all of the basic headsets on the market, but it has the best ratings at that price. This is truly one of the best ways to take advantage of tech in the classroom.
So what does it do? First of all, it works through a smartphone. I don't know the phone policy of all of the schools in America. But for those school that allow phones, this is a perfect use for them. For those that don't, you can always use your phone and supervise them as they are passing it around. If you have an assistant or parent or two, the sharing becomes much more manageable. The kids won't get bored and restless because they are waiting quite as long. (Actually, I have a solution for the waiting on point number 4 below.) And the ones using it will be wowed beyond their years.
Some of the things they can see with the VR? They can explore landmarks and buildings. There is a pretty amazing Titanic VR program. It allows them to experience life on the ship, the sinking of the ship, and exploration of the wreckage. They also learn how to work with the diving equipment and tools. The company that produced this is Immersive VR Education. You can see a trailer for it on this Youtube link.
Here is another excellent video from Youtube that showcases some of the best Educational VR apps. The one that really sold me was at the end. It is called Tilt Brush. It is from Google (interestingly, there is a huge amount of VR from Google). What makes Tilt Brush so amazing is that it allows the student to create in 3D anything that is in their heads. Because this is a literature site, I will explain how incredible it works in the literature world. But really, this app is amazing for literally any field of study or entertainment that exists (as well as what doesn't yet exist!).
So the way you can set up Tilt Brush to work with your literature program is to let the students create whatever is in their mind based on what they read. They can create their concept of the White Witch's Castle, Hogwarts, the annex in The Giver, literally any location or item in any book you are reading. If that isn't limitless potential, nothing is!
I could go on about VR in the classroom, but then we won't get to the rest of the items. I think I may need to do a blog post or two more about what an amazing addition this is to the classroom. Oh, and for parents reading this, this is not just amazing for the classroom. Your kids are going to love learning AND playing with this!
Skype is amazing for being able to see friends and family from far away and talk with them almost as if they were with you. But in the classroom, it is a whole new ballgame. It is an excellent way to take advantage of tech in the classroom.
Teachers can use this to open a whole new world to their students in limitless areas of life. For example, if you are doing a study on farming, you can interview a farmer from your classroom. You can Skype with an author of a book you are doing in class and find out why they wrote the book, why they chose the characters and what basis it had in their life, how the settings in the book were developed, and literally anything else you and your students can think of. You can even talk with the author about what experiences in their lives brought them to the writing of the book being discussed.
Bringing reality into the classroom in this way helps your students to see that they are indeed learning about real life, even though it doesn't always seem like it in class. You are actually bringing real life into the classroom in a way that allows the students to see what that looks like. The hard part for you will be where to implement it because you can use it for every single thing you are teaching. Except you will not have enough time to use it to its full potential. It will be a great treat when you do, though!
This one can be a little trickier. While you will definitely have auditory learners in your classroom, it could be difficult to keep the attention of the more visual and tactile learners. But if you keep it fairly short you should be able to keep everybody engaged.
This makes a perfect companion to Skype. While you will have more options than you can put into your classroom time with Skype, there will still be some limitations with it that Podcasts can fill in the gaps for.
For example, say you are working on a literature book that the author is no longer alive. You certainly can't Skype them. But you can find an interview that was done at some point in the past and share that in the form of a Podcast.
The same is even more true for living authors that you would not be able to book because they are way beyond the ability to spend personal time with every class that requests it. A perfect example of this is J.K. Rowling. If you were able to get her to Skype into your class for a session on Harry Potter, then you would be the most amazing teacher in the world! But since that would be an extremely tall order, you can always play a podcast of an interview that she has already done. Just choose an interview that would cover the topics your class is interested in.
4.Digital Learning Centers
I already alluded to this idea in the section on VR. This is the perfect solution to keeping all of your kids engaged when there is now way you can provide personal electronic equipment for each student in your class. This method allows you to have one or a few of each media that rotates through the class.
Here are some examples that would allow you to section your class into 5 groups:
- tv or equivalent for watching an educational video
- VR equipment for bringing what they learn in the video to life
- tablet or computer for Skype
- phone or digital device for podcast
- and finally, a good, old-fashioned book station to prove that books are still contenders in today's tech-savvy world!
You can provide even more stations than this with a little bit more thought or research. But this is a start. Each station can be reinforcing the same or similar concepts so that kids are truly immersed in what they are learning. And they don't even realize that this is adding practicality to a classroom that must run on a budget.
5. A Tech Nook for Students Who Finish their Work Early
This is a great way to take advantage of tech in the classroom. In the past, teachers told kids that finished their work early to read a book, color a picture, or write in their journal. Those still remain great options. I would definitely keep them on the table. And surely, some kids will prefer to read or draw.
With a little bit of prep work, teachers can plan some technology supported activities that reinforce what they are working on in the classroom. A short video that repeats concepts learned makes a great example. Online games that let them play through rounds to confirm what they have learned make perfect options as well.
I think the idea here is to keep the kids from getting bored while they wait for others to finish. The only caveat I see here is that if you have children who would rather play video games all day than do anything else, you don't necessarily want them filling in gaps of time with more of the same. So maybe making the nook portable helps with that situation. You can pull it out on certain days of the week or after certain milestones are hit. You could also implement it into a reward program.
6. Personal Blogs for Students
I found this concept online when looking for ideas for my kids. I never would have thought of giving that to my kids, even though I have been doing it for some time!
What a perfect way this is to take advantage of tech in the classroom because it allows the kids to exercise their creativity. You can supervise in the background and give occasional feedback and encouragement. The best part of this: the students are learning language arts while also exercising the creativity that can so easily get stifled in the classroom with some of the more routine exercises.
Wordpress will allow you to set up blogs for your students for free. You will just need to do a little bit of research and prep. Then you will easily be able to set it up and have it ready to go with the kids.
You also may want to procure a teacher's assistant or parent that can help out. That will allow you to set up all of the students on their new blogs.
Your students will love this because it is allowing them to do their own thing. And they will get the satisfaction of watching it build. Parents will also love to see what their kids are building.
This is just one more example of taking advantage of tech in the classroom that allows the kids to get a glimpse of real life.
7. Play Games!!!
I did this early on in our tech days with my older kids. Back then, most of the games capitalized on math and spelling/reading concepts. But over time, the internet has expanded so far beyond what anybody could have dreamed. And with that, the educational options also exploded. Countless options abound in every subject you can imagine. That makes it perfect for you to implement in your classroom for the basics. But it allows your students to expand their horizons exponentially when you encourage them to find other games or projects online that cater to their own personal interests. They learn more in the fields they are interested in, you are able to help them discover those fields, and everybody is happy!
One thing that really helps in this area is being able to relate personally to your students throughout the day. The more that you are interacting with them on a personal level, the more you will get glimpses into what they love. And that will help you to tailor their education to what works the best for them and expands their world outward from the classroom. Years later, they will remember the roots of that learning and where it got them to where they end up. What a great reward for teachers to see where their work ended up! I could actually make several blogs on all of the great games that could enhance the classroom learning environment. I will put that on the list, but if you have suggestions of your favorites, let me know!
Mind Meister is a Mind Mapping program. What that basically means is that it it takes all of the random information that you throw at it and helps you to organize it in a perfectly ordered way. As the map develops, it then allows you to visually see the progress that has been made. This process also allows for faster learning because of the organization aspect.
This program has been around for about 5 years and is pretty amazing. They produced an excellent video on Youtube that explains more efficiently than I can how they assist students and teachers. The biggest reason this program excels is because it links everything together so well. You and your students can brainstorm for a project and it all goes together. So nobody can forget what someone else said or added because it is all there. If a student thinks of something while on the bus to go home, they can quickly add it to the program with their phone. No ideas disappear. Unless it was one of those thoughts just before you fall asleep and its gone by morning because you were too tired to record it in some way.
So here are the first eight ways to take advantage of tech in the classroom. This article focused more on specific tech activities for the kids that would actively help with their learning. The next post focuses on tech ideas that help the teacher to keep her students and classroom details organized. Here is the link to that article.
As always, if you have more to add, I welcome your thoughts. Just hit the comment section below. I barely scratched the surface and I know lots of other programs that people have used that have been just as successful.